I have had to come out about things a few times in my life. I’m queer. I’m bipolar. I am kinky. None of these things are obvious at first glance. So, I have to make the decision to tell people over and over again.
Coming out as queer has never been a big deal to me. I never had the impression that being gay was wrong or bad, it was always just a part of me. When I came out to my parents it was actually as a way of derailing my father during a fight about how much I was on the phone as a teen. It was more traumatic for him than it was for me. And that was the objective I had when I came out.
Coming out as bipolar and kinky has been harder. Unlike being gay, being bipolar and kinky were known threats to my career. Additionally, my mental illness is something I am not fully comfortable with and talking about my battle with health care is deeply personal and very painful (I HATE, and I mean HATE medical professionals). Kink, unlike being queer, is more of a choice and one that is harder for people to understand. Finally, being bipolar and kinky are things that people feel I am oversharing when I mention them.
Why You Should Come Out
So, why do I do it? I do it because all three aspects help explain who I am, how I move through the world, and acknowledging them allows other people to be honest about who they are.
Brene Brown, in her TED Talk about vulnerability, points out that health and joy and living fully come from being vulnerable and authentic. If we truly want to foster connection, the core of full-hearted living, in our lives, we have to be vulnerable. That means being honest about who you are. This is terrifying for most people.
It is hard to explain the deep and significant changes that take place in your life when you are open with who you are. Being forced to hide parts of who you are creates a sense of isolation and loneliness. It prevents us from fully connecting with someone. Taking the leap and being open about who we are allows for much deeper connection.
I CAN’T Come Out as Kinky!
I have had this conversation hundreds of times with people in the kink community. They fear that if they tell their parents or friends or anyone they are kinky that they will be ex communicated from those groups. They fear they will lose their job. They fear they might lose custody of their kids. They are not totally wrong.
I had several jobs where being part of the kink community, and moreover, being submissive, was a big threat to my job. My last official position was as the head of the California Commission on the Status of Women and Girls. I was charged with running an agency that worked for the betterment of women and girls in California. I spoke to legislative panels about military sexual trauma, domestic violence, and the need for women to be respected and treated as equals to men. Had it been widely known by the Legislature that I engaged in things like impact play and humiliation play it would have been difficult to be taken seriously when I spoke about the need to fund domestic violence shelters and rape centers.
The insane thing was, what I was doing in private was manifesting the things I advocated in public. I demanded respect. I put my needs front and center in a relationship. I engaged in sexual behavior that I agreed to and wanted. My partners knew when to stop and how to protect me. This is just the opposite of domestic violence and rape.
So, I chose to slowly come out. I spoke to individuals in my professional world about things like safe words, and setting boundaries and balancing needs between partners in relationships. I let out a few photos of me in shibari ties. People on an individual basis began to see the benefits of the healthy practices in kink and saw ornate rope work for what it was to me- art.
There is no way I could have, or would have considered, speaking on a highly public basis about my kink. The current version of “news” prohibit intelligent and thoughtful conversation. Images of women on all fours and leashed would have appeared and comments would have been limited to 140 characters and 10 second sound bites. So, mass level coming out was not possible. Doing it on an individual basis, however, began to shift the conception of kink for people who had power. It also allowed me in to the secret world of elected officials who were secretive kinksters.
I learned from this, and other experiences, that coming out has to be thoughtful, planned and prepared for if it is to be both effective and not harmful. I also found that coming out kinky meant I connected more deeply with people.
After my last position, I was approached about heading another agency. I had spoken to the Board chair on a number of occasions about becoming the Executive Director for a statewide agency. As it came close to the time for me to be vetted by the full board, I disclosed that I was part of the kink community and had a book about BDSM forthcoming. I was prepared to have a conversation about political liabilities and how I planned on handling my kink life and political life.
The conversation was quickly derailed. As soon as I revealed I was a submissive, the Board chair revealed he was a Dom with a collared slave and they loved pet play. He also occasionally topped a couple of elected officials. This enables a deeper connection and a better discussion of political liability. Ultimately I did not take the job, but that had nothing to do with kink.
Family and Friends
Close personal relationships can actually present a greater challenge in coming out than work relationships. People are afraid to disappoint people they love. They don’t want to be seen as “Dirty” and “Perverted” by people they care for.
Coming out is still important. If kink is part of who you are, you are not having a full relationship with someone if you feel a need to “clean up” and “hide” who you are. It is not that this relationship is somehow less significant and I am not saying there is not deep love and care if you are not out. What I am saying is that you are keeping something from someone you love, probably because you care about what they think.
Like coming out at work, coming out to family and friends has to be thoughtful and prepared for. You need to be able to express why kink is important to you. You need to be willing and able to talk about how kink informs how you move through the world. You need to be able to talk about kink without making it overly tittilating (Really, who wants to get into sex details with grandma?!?!)